While generally being incredibly lazy, the end of August saw me in a ‘cleaning’ frenzy. Well, more like spring cleaning, where I was to get rid of old stuff, ranging from clothing I rarely wear to notes I’ve had hanging around since I finished school (secondary school, I mean… not university). These notes would be about 4 or 5 years old at best. I suppose another reason I want to sort these out is because I want to leave as little as possible behind, since my most precious possessions are my writings, music (CDs… yes, I still use those) and my laptop (since it allows me to communicate with the world beyond my country’s doorstep).
Anyhow, under all the piles of notes and random printouts of quotes, pictures and such, I found a copy of the famous speech called ‘I have a dream‘ by Martin Luther King, Jr. If I remember correctly, we were given a copy to study in English Literature (I doubt we ever discussed it though).
Now I’m not the most accurate historian – ok, when it comes to world history, I’m quite crap, to be honest, unless it’s very very old (e.g. Ancient Greece) – but the subtitle states it was ‘delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963‘. That makes it almost 50 years old, meaning it is slightly younger than my parents.
In his speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses plenty of metaphors and analogies. The text is rich in ideas, but extremely simple, which is one reason why he managed to touch so many people. Based on his speech, with no knowledge of what he did or didn’t do, I think he must have been quite an amazing human being. You can read his original speech from the link on the page bar (where it says Home, About, etc…) at the top of this page.
He wanted freedom for the Negro (as he calls the coloured folk of America), in every sense. Despite all the signatures and legislation for equal rights at the time, according to him, “one hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”
Before this he actually said:
“the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
Let’s step away from the historical context for a second and remove the racial aspect of things. I hear you cry out “what on earth is he talking about?! This speech was written about racial discrimination!” but bear with me for a minute. Take the above phrase and remove the word ‘Negro’ from it (censors might do it anyhow).
“the life of the _____ is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
Then think of all other social groups that suffer discrimination today.
Homosexuals, transgendered/transsexuals, people of a different religious conviction, and unfortunately, even more broadly, women. These – aside from the last – are not visible social groups. In some societies, people discriminate against foreigners, who are those who take the jobs no native would take anyhow, and try to muffle the voice of those who are different – whether the difference is that of race, religious belief, creed, country, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
I won’t go into statistics, because most of it has been said before. Examples? Things that come to mind are the gender pay gap, the notion of the ‘glass ceiling’ for women’s salaries, and the percentage of gay teens committing suicide due to bullying/intolerance at school. The last sounds very specific but it happens, people! Look it up!
Some of you will argue that discriminating against a homosexual is very different and not comparable to discriminating against a person of colour and you are probably right. Racial discrimination is not the same as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That doesn’t make either of the two acceptable. That doesn’t mean it is ‘ok’ to bully a coloured child or pay someone less due to the colour of their skin. That does not mean it is any more ‘ok’ for gays in Russia and Uganda to be oppressed.
But to be honest, we don’t have to go that far to see examples of discrimination. Just look around.
I’m not here to ‘preach’. I’ve found that there are those who are inspired to see for themselves what society and we have done to ourselves, while others who will not budge a hair from their opinion – to the point that they will not even listen to another’s. My point is, I’m basically figuring this out as I write it – thinking through my fingers if you want me to put it that way. There are many things we can learn from the past, and I feel Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I have a dream‘ speech is quite educational.
Martin Luther King, Jr. also stated the following:
“the marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.“
He said it himself. We cannot walk alone, as much as we’d like to.
All sides need to make an effort to build a community of tolerance. But I’m not sure tolerance is the right word here. The term ‘tolerance’ implies one group is overstepping the bounds of the other, socially, economically, mentally or physically. It could be used in this sentence: ‘He is such a pain, but we tolerate him because he is my brother’.
Perhaps ‘acceptance’ is a better one? Yet that still implies that one side has wronged the other in some way and has to be ‘accepted’ for reintegration into society.
I know! A society of freedom and equality. There you go. Obviously one man’s freedom stops where that of another begins, so we must not forget to include respect in there somewhere. You don’t have to tolerate a man’s views, or even accept them, but you can respect his right to speak.
You may think that I am just playing with the meaning of words, but words are important because they reflect the spirit of a time – and to be honest our time at the moment is so fast-paced that we are represented by words like ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’.
As my mother said (though we often disagree about many other things), we’re a generation that seems ‘lost in space’ and doesn’t have something to fight for. I say we do, and I call you all to the front line. We can fight for equal rights for all and fight to stop wrong in its tracks. It sounds childish and simple on paper, and to be honest, might never happen, because we human beings tend to find a reason to discriminate even when there isn’t one.
But that is no reason not to try.
Today is about having a dream. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream “that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I cannot say I know what racial discrimination is or feels like, but I am here to stand against it, as well as against many other kinds of discrimination. I am here, and I am ready to “fight the good fight”.
I have a dream today.
Aside from my many personal aspirations, I have a dream that one day we will wake up to an equal, respectful society, free of all prejudices and presumptions. I have a dream that we can make a difference, and that this blog post is read by millions (although I doubt that will happen…). Because I have a dream that we will make a change. I’m not at all the best person to lead a charge against ‘evil’, but I think I can help find that person.
I leave you with a final word from the gentleman who inspired this post:
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
What’s your dream?